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BECC Chair Tom Cutterham with attendees at the annual MECRN workshop
BECC Chair Tom Cutterham with attendees at the annual MECRN workshop

Researchers from across the midlands came to the University of Birmingham this spring to share work in progress and discuss the state of the field of eighteenth-century studies, at the annual meeting of the MECRN. The 2021 event was hosted by the University of Warwick and held online, so this year’s meeting was the first to be held in-person since the COVID19 pandemic.

Attendees heard presentations on the consumption habits of eighteenth-century clergymen, the theological debates between the lines of Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa, the problems of property and the idea of loss, and even the long afterlife of Samuel Pepys’ diary. This work also launched discussions of how students of the eighteenth-century can work and communicate between academic disciplines, and how we might build intellectual collaboration across different institutions as well as different sub-fields.

Professor Matthew McCormack of Northampton University, the current Vice-President of the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies and a former editor of the Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies, gave a keynote talk synthesising the state of the field today, and the prospects for the near future. The meeting also celebrated recent publications by attendees, including Sarah Fox’s monograph, Giving Birth in Eighteenth-Century England, and Professor Mark Knights’ timely new book, Trust and Distruct: Corruption in Office in Britain and its Empire.

In the closing session, the meeting talked about practical initiatives for supporting research on the eighteenth century, and reviewed data on the range of topics and areas covered by existing researchers in the region. The MECRN will go forward in the coming academic year with an expanded network, a dedicated mailing-list, and an increased sense of local intellectual community. Its 2023 meeting will be hosted by the University of Warwick.